Starting Fresh

As the kids and I approach the end of this school year, we’ve been making plans for what we envision in 2020-2021. This year, we tried unschooling, which I adored. It was by far our most peaceful year and, on top of that, it was so valuable in helping each child take ownership of his or her own learning (more on this topic in a future post). But for next year, the kids would like me to go back to overtly teaching them. That suits me fine, too, because I love it; it’s the best and most rewarding job I’ve ever had.

I like variety and I’m always looking for ways to keep the learning fresh and invigorating for us all. So I proposed that, for next year, we change it up from our typical school year schedule and try doing only 4 subjects per six weeks, each subject ALL DAY one day a week, throughout the six week block. Then we pick 4 more subjects for the next six weeks and so on, until the school year is over. I suggested that we start now to get a taste of what next year might be like and really, just to see if it would even pan out as a doable system. I mean, logistically, can we spend all day doing art or science or math? We’ll see…

So far we’ve completed two days, which have both been great. The kids picked Nature Study and Fine Arts as day one and day two.

Buy Bird Bingo Online, Bird Bingo Prices in Canada - Urban Nature ...

Day 1: Nature Study

For nature study, my plan was to read a chapter of Owls in the Family and of That Quail, Robert, both of which we’ve already started. Then I wanted to play some nature games; we have lots and I got a bunch out and let the kids pick. My youngest loves Bird Bingo. In fact, I think she suggested Nature Study in part because she wanted to play Bird Bingo. So, of course, we played it. We also played Animal Linkology, (which seems to be out of print, sadly). Animal Linkology is sort of a cross between an animal knowledge game and a critical thinking game. For example, say you have the card “omnivore” in your hand and there are 3 picture cards on the table: a flamingo, a frog, and a cat. You need to play your card on one of them if you can. Are any omniovores? If so, which one(s)?

Learning Resources Linkology Animals Card Game: Office ...

During lunch, I popped open the Professor Noggin’s “Life in the Ocean” card game and asked them nature trivia while they ate. Two of the kids have been making a study of our local beaches all school year, and I was honestly pretty astonished at how much they’d learned. They rocked the ocean trivia.

Professor Noggin's Life in the Ocean

And then the weather changed. What had been a dismal, drizzly day became a glorious day of warmth and sunshine. Trust me, when you live in BC, you are dying for warmth and sunshine for a good chunk of the year, so when you get it, you take advantage. We all spent the rest of the school day, and indeed the rest of the day, outside in nature. Two of us opted for gardening. The others decided to explore their favourite beaches and tide pools. It was pretty great.

Our veggie garden: my personal project.
Our 11 year old’s summer bulb garden. If you look closely, you can just see the leaves beginning to pop up.
This box crab photo was taken by our 9 year old, who also correctly identifed the type of crab.
This is an underwater shot of a seastar; the kids think it’s a spinulosida.
A river otter playing at the beach. Kinda funny. Shadow of the 9 year old in the foreground.
A close-up the 13 year old snapped of a river otter eating a fish.

Day two: Fine Arts

We started out, like we often do, with some read alouds. I read about the history of the orchestra in general and of Johann Sebastian Bach’s orchestral music in particular, from Music of the Great Composers. We listened to one of his famous orchestral pieces, Orchestra Suite no. 3 in D Major. We talked about the aspects of the song that we’d learned about from the book (which parts were overture, which were more dance-like, etc). Afterward, we reminisced about the time we’d gone as a family to watch a production of Handel’s Messiah in full. IN FULL. It’s two and a half hours long and I’m pretty sure our oldest child at the time was around 11, which makes the other kids 8, 6, and 4. Yeah, it was a flop. BUT…even though they hadn’t enjoyed seeing the Messiah performed, now that they’d been exposed to just a smidge of great classical music, they all thought they’d like to try another classical music concert. Sweet! To wrap up the read aloud portion of the day, I read a short biography of Bach from Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers.

We’ve been playing a lot of Go Fish: Modern Artists lately, so I was pretty confident that’s what they would choose to play, but they wanted something different, so I pulled one that I haven’t gotten out since our oldest was in elementary school: Child-Size Masterpieces . I think it’s really meant for younger kids, but we played it like we do all other art games: primarily to engage with art in a fun way and secondarily to become familiar with the works and style of famous artists. We played level 1 and level 2. The game is played like memory, with all the cards face down. Level 1 features 2 of the same pieces from several different artists and you match identical cards (same artist, same artwork). Level 2 features 2 different pieces from several artists and you have to figure out which pieces are from the same artist (same artist, different artwork). I love trying to memorize the names of the art and the artists, so my kids naturally do that too, and by the end of maybe 20-30 minutes of playing, we were all familiar with several artists and some of their well-known pieces.


We spent the beginning of the day learning about composers and artists, and we spent the end of the day learning a new art form. I’ve had this really great looking Chinese brush painting kit for kids just sitting on the shelf for ages. It’s a fairly detailed kit, so I needed a day when we would have lots of time to really delve in. First, everyone practices the proper method for getting the watercolor paint on to the brush–the first color goes on the whole of the bristles, the second color on the lower half, and the third color on just the tip. This took a few tries to get right. Next, we had to practice the proper brush strokes. I wouldn’t say that we nailed this portion of the instructions, but we did do much better than we would have, had we not practiced it a fair bit first. Lastly, each one of us (including me) chose an animal to paint. Each animal had several pages of detailed instructions so this project took us at least an hour and half, all told. That said, we were pretty happy with the results and some of the kids tried again today, now that they are more familiar with the process. I’d call that a win.

Before we finished for the day, I asked the kids what they thought about the new system. They all loved it and thought that doing a whole day on one subject afforded them the opportunity to learn, remember, and make connections much more easily than in our regular schedule, as well as giving them extra time for things that were lengthy to learn and do like the brush painting. So far, I’d say the experiment’s been a success.

For next week, I’d like to dive into some more academic subjects. I’m thinking Language Arts, Math, History, and Foreign Languages. I think the real test of this system will be math. Can I make a whole day of math that is engaging for 4 completely different math levels to do at once? I think so, but I’ll find out for sure next week. If it’s a success, I’ll report back with an update.


One stop shop: here’s your complete list of free things, virtual tours, online classes, DIYs and suggestions

For those of you quarantined in the home and suddenly homeschooling, you may be stressed about how to teach your kids (espcially the more difficult subjects). Thankfully there are a host of great online sources for you to peruse and choose from. We have compiled a list for you to click on and explore and will add to the list as more resources become available. Learning at home is fun; use this time as a bonding experience with your children.

Have fun!

1. Supercharged Science


3. Museums and Online Collections

4. Science Websites

5. MIT courses for free

6. Explore Mars

7. Free lunchtime art class with Mo Willems

8. Writing Prompts

9. Watch an Opera online

10. Free Ivy League courses

11. Virtual Field Trips

12. Virtual Tours, museums

13. Scholastic: learn at home projects

14. Home Safari at the Cincinatti Zoo, everday at 3 pm EST

15. Free one month trial to The Great Courses Plus

16. Free Coding Courses

1. Take 3 Free Scratch 3.0 Game Development Courses with CodaKid

Younger learners will love our Scratch courses, which teach absolute beginners how to make their own 2D video games which can be played with friends and family. Make an awesome Catch the Cat, Infinite Jumper, and Scratch Archery game, and learn important concepts such as variables, conditionals, and loops. These courses are given by some of the top kids coding academies in the world, and you get access to them for free. To access them please use the following instructions:

a) Go to
b) Click Add to Cart
c)Look for “Have a coupon code?” field
d) Enter code HOME-FUN
e) Click Apply
f) Enjoy your FREE CodaKid Scratch 3.0 courses

(You should not have to enter any credit card info to gain access here. If you are prompted to enter a credit card, please retry the instructions again, as the cart should be taken to $0).

Activity Time: 3-4 hours
Recommended Ages: 7+
Device Needed: Chromebook, PC, Mac

2. Make an Obstacle (Obby) Game using Roblox Studio

We have put together a free guide that will get your son or daughter started with this super-fun and free activity. When they are done, they will have completed a professional quality Obby video game that they can play with friends and family online. Imagine learning how to make your own video game using the game engine used by tens of thousands of professional around the world! Super-fun and highly educational!

To take the tutorial visit:

Activity Time: 3-4 hours
Recommended Ages: 9+
Device Needed: Mac or PC

3. Make a Custom Sword Mod for Minecraft

We created a fun written guide that will teach you how to create your own custom sword for Minecraft – and you don’t even need a retail version of Minecraft to do it! This project will be an excellent project for young techies ages 10+, or a terrific Father/Mother- Son/Daughter dual project for all ages. When you are done, you will have designed your own custom sword with special powers that you can play in the game. And even cooler is that you will learn the Java programming language on a professional text editor to bring your creation to life!

To take the free tutorial visit here:

Activity Time: 4-5 hours
Recommended Ages: 10+
Device Needed: Mac or PC

4. Make your Own Free Minecraft Server

Our dev team created a super fun guide that will teach you how to build your own Minecraft server from scratch for FREE. Your child or teen will build valuable STEM skills and gain confidence setting up a server that can be used to play Minecraft with friends and family!

To take the tutorial visit here:

Activity Time: 4-5 hours
Recommended Ages: 10+
Device Needed: Mac or PC
Subscription needed: You will need retail versions of Minecraft to play multiplayer with your friends.We hope that you enjoy these projects as much as we have enjoyed creating them!

17. someone else’s big list of resources

18. St. Patrick’s Day drawing with illustrator Ralph Masiello

19. Virtual Museums in Canada

20. Look at art in high resolution: Art Institute of Chicago

21. Astronauts read stories from space

22. 60 day free trial of audiobooks and podcasts for kids

23. Writing Prompts

24. Free Ranger Rick magazines

25. Watch penguins tour an aquarium

26. Interactive Math and Science Simulations

27. Physics Games

28. Free E-books

29. How-tos and recommendations for home learning

30. Prodigy math

31. Crash Course History

32. Learn a foreign language

33. Educational games and videos

34. Learning site for jr. high/high school

35. Collections and Archives

36. For Fun: virtual Disney rides

37. Virtual Tour National Parks

38. Physics games

39. Math and Science simulations

40. Physics simulations

41. Math Games

42. World Geography game app

43. Free coloring pages from museum collections

44. Upper level math and computer studies

45. (NOT free, but pretty awesome anyway) Shakepearean plays at the Globe Theatre

46. How-to homeschool video workshop

47. Free Audiobook Streaming from Audible

48. Disney course “Imagineering in a Box” (you might also want to check out “The Imagineering Story” on Disney Plus

49. Kennedy Space Center science lessons

50. Harry Potter themed digital Escape Room

51. Free online books

52. Free online audiobooks

53. At Home Speech Therapy

54. Cursive Worksheets

55. How to teach Nature Journaling

56. Inupiaq Indigenous Coloring Pages

57. Chicano Art Coloring Book

58. Residential School Podcasts

59. Free Workbook pages: Math, Spelling, Reading Comprehension, Writing

60. Elementary Math

61. Archeology

62. Reading Program

63. Chemistry

64. Indigenous educators teach short K-8 lessons

65. Homebound Online Conference March 23-27 with homeschool gurus Julie Bogart (Brave Writer) and Susan Wise Bauer (The Well-Trained Mind)

66. Livestream Reading of Shakespeare

67. Virtual Marine Biology Camp

68. Virtual Birding

69. Free and Reduced Rate Coding Class

70. Online YMCA classes

71. 30 Day Trial of Scribd

72. Kids’ Workout

73. Online Readers

74. Best Math Sites Online

75. Free Month Trial of Adventures in Odyssey Club

76. Music Education Games

77. Disney Performances

78. Youtube Workouts for Kids

79. Virtual Dissections (some have a fee, others are free)

80. Free Digital Cooking Classes for Kids

81. STEM Stories

82. Kids Discover Online (science and social studies)

83. 30 Day Trial of EPIC! Digital Library

84. Virtual Farm Tours

85. National Geographic Kids

86. Math Practice up to Algebra

87. Read-alouds done by famous people

88. Spanish Practice

89. Grammar Practice

90. Wide Variety Activities, Carmen Sandiego themed

PLEASE CHECK OUT our instagram

AND facebook group!

Charles Dickens and my childhood…

The year I turned 15 I was assigned to read a Charles Dickens book for the first time. Now, I had been raised on musicals and I’m pretty sure I knew every word to the “Oliver!” soundtrack by the time I was 4. Dickens was an old friend. Read Dickens? No problem! Read Dickens? Easily. And so I began.

Image result for the first lines of a tale of two cities

And I quickly realized I had no idea what Dickens was talking about. It seems easy enough to follow now, but I guess I was a late bloomer in this regard, because I did not get it. At all. A Tale of Two Cities was an incredible slog to get through and I didn’t really understand or appreciate any of it. So I did what any beleaguered teenager does. I complained to my mom. “This is the worst, most boring book I’ve ever read! I don’t see how I’m going to finish it. I don’t have any idea what any of it means.” “No, no,” retorted my mom, “Dickens is a genius. Keep going; I know you’re going to love it.” But I did not love it. The more I read, the more I hated reading. “I’ll tell you what,” suggested my wise mama, “I’ll read a few chapters aloud to you every night and I’ll explain anything you don’t understand.” Perfect! So that’s what we did. My mom laughed hysterically over parts of the book. She laughed so hard she cried when we came to scenes at the home of the Cruncher family and the “flopping” Mrs. Cruncher. Her infectious enthusiam for the book and her matter of fact explanations of everything that baffled me made all the difference. And…we were off together on an exciting adventure through France and England in the late 1700s. We alternately laughed and cried, and we thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, both in the bonding that it brought to share a book and an adventure together, and in the intellectual stimulation we both felt.

And that simple act of reading a difficult book aloud to me altered the course of my life.

Although I was a bright kid, reading hadn’t come particularly easily to me. And then came the interminable time of trudging through Dick and Jane books. “See Spot run. Run, Spot, run!” Well, that was enough to decide that reading was not for me. Nope, not interested. Of course, I could read, I just didn’t. I don’t recall ever having been asked to read anything very challenging or very interesting before A Tale of Two Cities was assigned me. However, every night from babyhood until I was 12 or so, my judicious mama spent about an hour reading aloud to me from all the classics, picture books to novels. She was faithful in doing so even though it must have seemed a useless endeavor, since I still would not read on my own for pleasure. Sure, I’d read picture books and easy reads, but nothing really difficult and meaty…until Dickens.

It was her reading Dickens aloud to me as a teenager, that made me see that all books were open to me. I could understand them, I could appreciate them, and they were worth the grind it sometimes took to get to the deliciousness of the story. And then, suddenly, after so many years of my devoted mama reading aloud to me, I was hooked. Eventually, I became an English major and then later still, a homeschool mama with a strong inclination towards read-alouds. If I do nothing else with these years, I will make my kids feel what my own mama made me feel–capable of enjoying and taking in difficult but beautiful books. So, no matter what else we accomplish in a day, I read aloud to them. I read history, science, biographies, folk tales, classics, nature stories, fairy tales, poetry, books about math, anything worth reading. Because I know how tranformative it is, I read aloud to my kids.